Song of the Sans Serif

It is now just over a year since the stimulating and insightful Song of the Sans Serif symposium, which brought together established and early-stage researchers to discuss serifless letterforms. Particularly insightful (and revelatory for me) was Vaibhav Singh’s paper on the problems Frutiger encountered in attempting a Devanagari Univers. My own paper was on typeface classification terminology, focusing on the ways in which sans serifs / grotesques / gothics (call them what you will) are placed in classification systems. My argument was that any set of terms used to describe typefaces comes bundled with a set of views, and that objective terminology is impossible. I was grateful that during the discussion that followed my paper Catherine Dixon provided a strong critique, arguing that the terminological specifics of classification are irrelevant — what matters is the system not the terms. Never a great improviser, I was unable to rebut this argument at the time. From the slow-paced sanctuary of my office I counter thus: I disagree. Typefaces do not exist objectively in groups of kind, awaiting classification. Typeface taxonomies are less Linnaen and more rhetorical; the terminology of typeface classification is not distanced and neutral, but plays a role in creating our typographic world.

Robin Fuller, Trinity College Dublin